(This column was first published in the August 11, 2003 issue of The Buffalo News.)
Terri Pagels is an animal rehabilitator, one of those deeply concerned and committed people who respond to wildlife injuries. Happily, she's also a writer who regularly contributes to The Wildlife Messenger, the quarterly journal of Messinger Woods Wildlife Care and Education Center. She has given me permission to retell, largely in her words, one experience she reported in that journal.
Terri was assigned to answer the Center's hotline last New Year's Eve weekend. Emergencies kept her away from her phone for most of the weekend and she returned to find a recorded message. Here is what she was able to make out: "(Sob!) Hello, my name is John. Can someone please (sob) come out to my house and pick up (sob) this (unintelligible word)? I'm so upset (sob). I don't want it to die (sob). Please, please help me. I called the zoo (sob) but no one answered. Please, please (sob), help me save this animal." John added his phone number with still more tears.
Terri was distraught. If only she had checked her messages sooner. She envisioned a baby coyote whose mother had been hit by a car or a snowy owl brought down by a pack of crows. Possibly even the elusive puma reported in the Southtowns had been shot. And she had let down the poor animal referred to by the speaker.
She immediately dialed the number and this (somewhat reconstructed) conversation followed.
Hi John. My name is Terri. I'm returning your call from the Messinger Woods Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. I apologize for not getting back to you earlier, but (and she offered several excuses.)
Terri repeated her message.
Oh yeah. Well, thanks for calling, but it's too late.
I'm so sorry. What kind of animal did you have, John?
Well, I bought a lobster for dinner to celebrate the New Year.
Did you say...a lobster?
Yeah, you know: those fish that get red when you cook them.
Yes, I'm familiar with the species. (She was tempted to ask if the lobster drank too much salt water and couldn't drive.)
Yeah. After I got him home, I put him in an aquarium to keep him fresh until dinner. Well, he kept looking at me with those cute little eyes and batting his eyelashes....
John, lobsters don't have eyelashes.
Well, this one did. Anyway, after spending the afternoon with him, I decided that there was no way I could possibly kill him. Then when the zoo didn't answer my call, I phoned a friend and asked if I could put the lobster in his saltwater tank. He said, "Heck no: it'll eat all my fish."
Right, so anyway I got your number on the internet. It makes no difference now though. He didn't make it.
Sorry, John, but life is hard. What happened?
Well, I put some water in the aquarium so he could breathe (breathe?) and started feeding him some of the shrimp I ended up having for dinner instead of him. He was doing pretty good, eating and in good spirits, but (sigh) when I got up in the morning he was dead.
I'm truly sorry to hear that. (Here Terri went into her "Save the Animals" mode.) You have a good heart, John, and we need more people like you. So, did you give your lobster a proper burial?
After some hesitation John replied: Well, no -- I ate him.
Terri could think of nothing to add.
If you like Terri's story as much as I do, you'll want to support her work by joining Messinger Woods. Contact them at 648-8091.-- Gerry Rising
Note: You may learn more about the excellent Messinger Woods Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at their website.